Michelle’s Corner 1.21.21
The other day I was scrolling through social media and saw a post by an acquaintance who was concerned about seeing so many tent sites during her daily commute. She was worried about the safety and well being of those living in those tents as well as how these encampments affected the local neighborhoods.
I know my friend is not alone as I hear them echoed in community and neighborhood meetings. But then she expressed her opinion that “no one seems to want to fix this. Someone should DO something!”
I’ll admit that I was more than a little irritated by this statement. After all, ShelterCare and dozens of other partner agencies are constantly providing support and resources and meeting with county, city and state officials to figure out ways (old and new) to address the growing unhoused population in Lane County. For most of us, this isn’t just a job that we do only from 9 to 5. It’s what we constantly think about, at all hours, day and night. It’s a passion or a calling; something in which we believe that we can make a difference.
How dare she say no one is doing anything?
Then I reminded myself that not everyone has my vantage point, and it’s unfair to expect everyone to have my behind-the-scenes view. It’s not that those of us working on this issue are keeping secrets, we’re just so busy that we forget that community education is vital, too. So let me take a brief moment to pull back the curtain.
First, there are many agencies, municipalities, neighborhood associations and religious groups involved. We meet A LOT. Even better, there are several people with lived experience who also participate and lend their expertise so that services are accessible and fit the needs of our consumers. It’s important to always remember that people who are unhoused are individuals with opinions and concerns of their own. You can’t write a description of the characteristics of a “typical” unhoused person: there’s no such thing. They have different educational backgrounds, careers (yes, many have jobs!), families and friends, and physical health needs.
Secondly, there is no perfect solution that *snap!* “fixes” everything, though there are many things definitely needed to help:
- Affordable housing.
- Access to medical and mental health care.
- Emergency shelter that is safe.
- Case management to help navigate a confusing system of resources; to find the solutions that meet the specific needs of consumers.
- Livable wages. (Remember I mentioned that many of the unhoused ARE employed!)
- Child care and support services.
- Educational resources that help consumers get the skills they need for other jobs.
That’s just a short list. Many agencies are working on different aspects of these needs, each of us focusing on what we know best, trying to avoid duplication and stretch resources across the spectrum of needs.
Thirdly, in order to make change, it’s important to not only have an identified goal, but also recognize where we’re starting, then have a way to track success…and problems. The TAC report is a game plan for Lane County that was adopted in 2019 with ten specific goals that will help us reduce homelessness. It’s not perfect, of course, but it does give us a framework. Agencies are also providing real-time updates through a tracking system to help us identify populations and gaps in services each month so we can address needs as they change: winter needs are different from summer needs! All of this information is available for public view online.
Finally, (well, not finally as this list doesn’t include EVERYTHING, just the highlights) all of us working together toward change need resources and community support to make those TAC report plans a reality. Through collaboration and partnership, those of us working in this arena have been able to leverage federal and state funds to provide additional emergency housing that meet pandemic needs with the new pallet shelter pods, car parking sites, and other emergency beds. Outreach programs have been increased with the focus of finding solutions that are creative in getting individuals or families back on their feet. The Commons on MLK will open next month as a partnership between ShelterCare, Homes For Good, Quantum and the county to create 51 new low-barrier housing units. And there’s so much more to do.
Photo: The Commons on MLK- view from Homes for Good construction webcam
None of this is possible without community support: both financial and emotional. Instead of saying, “Someone should DO something!” consider that YOU are someone, too. What are YOU going to do to address your concerns about homelessness. How can YOU be part of the solution. Can you be an advocate for your favorite program? Can you learn more about the programs that exist? Can you invite one of us to speak to your business, religious group, or social group about how to look for solutions?